Read Stealing the Bride Online

Authors: Elizabeth Boyle

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

Stealing the Bride (8 page)

BOOK: Stealing the Bride
2.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Temple muttered a vow upon the lost girl’s soul, for he knew that if Marden had dealt with her, her inability to testify was permanent. She deserved more for her courage to bear witness against a member of the
ton
than to be murdered by this evil trio.

“Satisfied, monsieur? Your reputation is safe and you’ve been well compensated for your troubles.”

Another one of the riders urged his horse forward. He blocked Cordell from Temple’s view, but his words were clear enough to be heard.

“Is she untouched? Does she remain a virgin?”

“Yes…Yes…” Cordell told him, casting an annoyed glance in that direction. “To tell the truth, I don’t see what your Emperor wants with her. She’s got a shrew’s tongue and a temper to match.”

Marden leaned over. “She is no longer your concern.”

“And good riddance, I might add. Another day cooped up with her and that wretched travel book of hers would have sent me—”

“Enough, monsieur,” Marden said. “Now where is she?”

Temple’s mouth opened in shock. Up until this point it had all seemed so unreal that he hadn’t really considered the consequences before him—Cordell was selling Diana to a pack of French agents.

But now the peril of the situation sent Temple’s blood pounding. The moment Cordell opened his mouth and told them where Diana was, she was in danger. Grave danger, if his instincts were telling him true.

And they’d never wronged him before.

He muttered a curse under his breath.
Oh, how the devil did I ever get involved in all this?

Cordell nodded toward the village. “She’s at the inn. The Queen’s Respite, near the center of town.”

“Which room?” Marden pressed, his hand loosening his grip on his reins and running beneath his cloak.

No
, Temple wanted to shout.
Don’t tell them, you fool
. He patted his coat again, hoping he’d just missed his pistol the last time he’d checked. He knew only too well what was about to befall Cordell.

And there wasn’t anything Temple could do if he wanted to live to save Diana.

“The last room down the hall,” Cordell said impatiently, not paying attention to the shifting movements above him, too intent on gathering the last of the coins into his greedy hands and stuffing them back into the pouch and into his pockets. He rose and faced his conspirators. “To the left when you get to the head of the stairs.” He gave the bag an appreciative shake. “Give her my love.”

“We’ll give her more than that, monsieur,” Marden said, pulling out a pistol and firing a shot straight into Cordell’s heart. “We’ll give her your condolences.”

The viscount staggered back several steps, his mouth open and moving, but no words came forth.

Temple stood rooted in place, impotent rage seething through him at his own inability to come to the man’s aid. What could he do with his pistol back at the inn and Diana’s destiny so uncertain?

In truth, the viscount had sealed his own fate the moment he’d become embroiled in this treacherous affair.

Now it was his undoing.

The man clutched at his coat, where already a red stain spilled across the pale yellow wool. He looked down at his own ruin and then back at his murderer. “You dirty, conniving—” His strangled words ended as he fell over dead.

Marden shrugged. “
Adieu,
monsieur.” He tucked his pistol back inside his cloak, then said to one of his henchmen, “Retrieve the gold before we go fetch our bride. He has no use for it now.”

There followed some low, rough laughter.

The bride
. Temple glanced over his shoulder, where he could barely discern the lights of Geddington. Diana! Her name shot through his shocked thoughts like a howling wind.

In the meadow, a French curse tainted the air. “He won’t let go of the pouch.”

Temple wanted to smile. Even in death, Cordell remained a greedy, grasping bastard.

“Then cut off his hand, you fool. Just get the money,” Marden ordered.

Backing away from the horrific scene and the complaints of the horseman, Temple made his way out of the woods as quickly and silently as he could. If the French discovered him, there would be no one to protect Diana from whatever they had planned for her—since he knew only too well what they were capable of.

But before he cleared the trees and could hit the road in a dead run, the horsemen thundered past him and into Geddington.

His heart sank. He’d never reach her in time.

Oh dear God, Diana. I’ve failed you yet again.

 

Elton sat in the peace and quiet of the empty stable yard, smoking his pipe and glancing occasionally at the sky. The moon hung far overhead, just a faint silver whisper that offered little in the way of light or guidance through the darkness. Stars, taking advantage of the reluctant moon, sparkled and twinkled, radiating their own glory without the competing light from their brighter, much larger sister.

Ah, he mused, puffing on his pipe, it was a night made for the roads. He could almost hear the sound of a coming carriage, feel the restless movements of his horse beneath him as it too sensed the coming fray. Then he’d dash out in front of the driver, pistols in both hands, and say…say…

By gads, he couldn’t remember what it was he used to say.

“Get a good night’s rest, you old fool,” he muttered to himself. He sighed and tapped out his pipe. He’d given up that profession the day the hangman had put a noose around his neck and pronounced his final punishment.

If it hadn’t been for the marquis’ intervention…well, he owed Lord Templeton his life, and he certainly couldn’t start indulging in old ways just because a perfect night tempted him to ride the roads again.

Yet…it was as if he could hear the pounding hooves calling him, coming closer.

“Ye’re getting batty,” he said, wondering at the lure the road still held over him. He should go inside and seek his bed, for it was a warm and rare one indeed, but he couldn’t just yet. His lordship had gone and wandered off, and until he was back, safe and sound, Elton was going to maintain his vigil.

Then he heard it again. The thick, enticing sound of hoofbeats coming closer. He wasn’t off his knocker. It was horses. Four of them, coming at a breakneck speed.

And it wasn’t a carriage. He knew that just from the sound.
Riders.
He frowned and ducked behind a bale of hay. Some instincts never died.

Riders rarely brought good news. He knew that much, and so he concealed himself to see what scurvy business they were about.

Not that it surprised him that trouble was descending around the quiet inn. Wherever his lordship went, trouble was sure to follow.

And that’s why he didn’t mind so much being in his debt and all.

Life with his nibs was never dull.

The riders thundered into the yard, their horses clattering to a stop.

The innkeeper came out almost immediately. “Gentlemen, what can I do for you? Rooms? Meals? A hot drink to chase away the chill of the evening?”

A brute of a fellow jumped down from his mount and pushed past the innkeeper, sending the poor fellow onto his backside.

“Oh aye, trouble,” Elton muttered under his breath. He shook his head and glanced toward the inn. And Lady Diana and her Mrs. Foston were in there without his lordship around.

Elton didn’t like this one bit.

The innkeeper rose from the ground. “I’ll call the magistrate! I’ll get the constable! I’ll not have trouble in my—” He fell silent from a knock on the head by one of the other riders. The assailant and his partner stormed inside, following the first fellow.

Muttering a rather obscene curse, Elton considered his options.

Then came the answer to his problems.

“Elton?” the only too familiar voice of his lordship hissed through the dark stable yard. “Elton, where the devil are you?”

“Here, sir,” he said, relieved for the marquis’ timely arrival. He stepped into the light only to find himself facing a disheveled Temple. His normally meticulous employer looked as if he’d been chased by the hounds.

“Where are they?” the marquis asked.

Elton didn’t need to ask who. “Inside,” he said, jerking his thumb at the doorway.

“All of them?”

Elton nodded. “Aye.”

Temple stalked across the yard to the berline and reached up and under Elton’s seat, where they each kept a brace of pistols stashed, just in case.

Obviously this was one of those instances.

While his lordship checked the pistols, Elton began leading their mounts out of their stalls. He could put the horses in their traces and have them ready for traveling quicker than the best postboy.

“This is going to be just like Amsterdam,” Temple shot over his shoulder. “We’ve got to get out of here.
Now
.”

“Aye, sir,” Elton said, his hands running through the leather lines and guiding the beasts into their places. Then he paused, realizing exactly what his nibs had just said. “Like Amsterdam?” He glanced at the horses the riders had come in on. “Not that!”

“Yes, just like that. Consider our experience with the Dutch a dress rehearsal for tonight. But this time our enemy is French.”

“French!” Elton spat, as Temple dashed toward the inn. He didn’t know whom he hated more, excise men or the French. As far as he was concerned, they probably shared the same devilish sire. His hand went first to his missing eye, then to the knife in his belt.

“Hope they enjoy their walk back to the coast,” he said, as he started toward the four waiting mounts.

 

Temple dashed inside and went up the stairs, ignoring the overturned tables and the few patrons cowering beneath them. Down the hall, Marden and his companions were trying to break into Diana’s room. The old inn had weathered many a change, but the doors to the room, built at time when sturdy meant just that, was not about to give way.

Inside the chamber, Mrs. Foston screamed and rallied on. “Murderers! Thieves! Oh, somebody help me!”

Temple hung back, remembering what Diana had said about switching rooms with the lady because she was so hard to wake.

Not that I relish spending the night in a room above the stable yard.

With the French well occupied trying to gain their prize, Temple stole down the hall in the opposite direction. When he got to the end, he turned down a short corridor that led to a back staircase. There at the head of the stairs was a door that he gauged led to the only room that looked down on the stable yard.

He put his ear to the sturdy oak, but heard nothing within. He tried the latch and thankfully found it opened. Considering a trio of Frenchmen hadn’t been able to bash in the other door, he had been afraid he was going to have to go search for a cannon. He said a word of thanks to the thrifty innkeeper who hadn’t wasted money on a lock for a servant’s room.

He slipped inside and closed the door behind him. Once he did so, the ruckus down the hall was muffled and barely discernable. In fact, the room was almost peaceful, except for the soft snores rising from the sleeping form on the narrow cot situated beneath a small pair mullioned windows.

“Diana?” Her name whispered from his lips.

There was a rustling in the sheets, and a long bare leg poked out from beneath one of the blankets.

“Diana, is that you?” he choked out, unwilling to move too close. Gads, didn’t the chit have the decency to wear
something
to bed?

“Aye, Temple. ’Tis me.” She rolled over, the sheets falling away, revealing the lithe limbs and soft, beguiling curves that so belied the determined woman they contained. She wore only a chemise, so white and fine that it did little to hide the bounty beneath. The rosy hue of her nipples shone through, as well as every other glorious secret she kept so well hidden during the day.

Suddenly the threat of the French was nothing to what the sight of Diana was doing to his senses. Her tousled hair and come hither glances were enough to drive a man to forget all his convictions and lose himself in the silken embrace of her arms, the downy depths of her thighs.

She smiled, the one which drove him to distraction. So knowing, so victorious, so enticing. “You’ve changed your mind, I see.”

Changed his mind?
The commotion from down the hall grew louder. Recalling the real reason for his moonlight visit, he swung around, pistol pointed at the door.

“Trouble, Temple?” she asked, her delicate brow arching. “And here I thought you’d come to steal me away from Cordell.” She sat with her knees tucked to her chest, the sheet pulled up to her chin so very modestly. Yet there was nothing modest about the enticing sparkle in her blue eyes.

The light glowing there twinkled and teased him to steal more than another man’s bride. To carry her to some time-forgotten place and make love to her forever. The seductive notion bewitched him only for a moment before another streak of French curses came racing down the hall, leaving the air blue with their vehement pronouncement.

Even Diana had the decency to blush at what she was hearing.

“Demmit, Diana, this isn’t the time,” he said.

He glanced around the room and spied a traveling valise beside the bed. He hoped it contained a change of clothes. He didn’t bother to ask, but caught it up with one hand, while the other reached over and threw open the window.

“What are you doing?” Diana demanded, scrambling up from the bed, thankfully with the sheet in hand. “Close that window at once. I won’t catch my death.”

“You’d be surprised what you could catch tonight,” he told her, leaning out the window.

Blessings on you, Elton
, he thought, as he waved to his servant. The man had their carriage and horses harnessed and ready.

Down the hall a great crash sounded, and a piercing shriek rent the night.

“That’s Mrs. Foston,” Diana said, heading toward the door. “We must do something! Why, it sounds like she is being murdered!”

Temple caught her by the arm. “Oh no, we don’t,” he said, as a loud
thwack
and then a yelp echoed down the hall.

“Take this, you scoundrel.”
Thwack! Thwack!
“I’ll not let you take my virtue!”
Thwack! Thwack!

BOOK: Stealing the Bride
2.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Soldier's Mission by Lenora Worth
The Equalizer by Michael Sloan
Maxwell's Smile by Hauf, Michele
The Kassa Gambit by M. C. Planck
A Wizard's Tears by Gilbert, Craig
Playing in Shadow by Lesley Davis
Last Summer by Holly Chamberlin
Dark Space: Origin by Jasper T. Scott
Blake’s 7: Warship by Peter Anghelides